Could a private, Blackwater-type private security firm fire the first shot in the gulf which sees Iran and the United States stumble toward a WWIII scenario? That’s what has maritime industry analysts which advise shipping companies operating in the Middle East region concerned amid the latest soaring tensions, per a new Reuters report:
Shipping companies sailing through the Middle East Gulf are being urged to avoid having private armed security guards onboard as the risk of escalation in the region rises, industry associations say.
Following the significant rise in Somali piracy in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden over the past two decades off Africa’s east coast — which hit its peak about ten years ago — shipping companies have increasingly relied on private security firms to keep their cargo and personnel safe.
However, amid the currently escalating “tanker wars” in the gulf, which has recently included accusations that Iran’s elite IRGC attempted to intercept and seize a UK oil tanker, the ‘British Heritage,’ as it was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz to the Persian Gulf, there’s growing concern that mercenaries hired by private companies could inadvertently trigger a crisis should they engage with Iran’s navy.
“An advisory issued in recent days by leading shipping associations warned against using private armed guards in the critical areas,” the Reuters report continued.
“The use of force against threats recently encountered in the Gulf of Oman carries significant risk and has the potential to escalate security situations to the detriment of the safety of ship and crew,” the advisory said.
The advisory recommended unarmed security personnel and advisers: “The use of unarmed maritime advisors to assist with onboard security and watch-keeping is sensible,” it said. However, we wonder what good unarmed guards would do if rapidly boarded by pirates off African coastal waters.
But the chief concern remains focused on security policies while ships operate specifically in the Persian Gulf. Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, noted industry guidelines are more stringent for tankers traversing gulf waters: “The message is do not use private armed guards in these waters – it is not advised,” he told Reuters on Friday.
One industry legal adviser, Jonathan Moss, head of transport and shipping with law firm DWF, spoke to the heart of the issue in the following statement:
“The navies will be aware that additionally recruited armed security personnel may lead to the possible escalation of violence.”
“Armed guards are not the solution – all you need are more eyes and ears looking at all sides of the ship especially the rear when passing through those waters,” another private maritime security insider was quoted as saying.
It must be remembered that during the opening years of the US coalition occupation of Iraq, Erik Prince’s infamous Blackwater firm created extreme tensions between the local population and US military forces and American civilian advisers, which ultimately got the mercenary company banned from the country.
The 2007 Nisour Square massacre – as it became known – involved Blackwater contractors killing 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians as their humvees sped through a busy Baghdad intersection, which resulted in four of the contractors involved receiving 30 year prison sentences after a series of trials, with one receiving life. Other Blackwater-related incidents across Iraq led to reprisal attacks targeting coalition forces and headquarters at the time.
It appears the latest maritime advisory warning tanker companies against using private armed guards on their ships while traversing the gulf is designed precisely to avoid a “Nisour shooting”-type incident involving Iranian forces, which would surely lead to war.